The first time I had an encounter with Jesus was at the age of sixteen. I was listening to an audio dramatization of the crucifixion. When I heard the hammer hit the nails that drove into Jesus’ flesh, I felt like I was there two thousand years ago, watching it with my very own eyes. I shuttered inside. Tears rolled down my face. Following the audio clip, I heard the retreat leader ask the question, “What would you do if Jesus walked into this room right now?” I imagined it in my mind’s eye, Jesus walking toward me. It caused me to drop my face into my lap in an effort to hide my shame. More tears fell from my eyes. It was then that I recognized that I carried sin in my heart. It immediately caused me to ask Jesus to forgive me for all of my sins.
Following the teen retreat called Search, I wanting nothing more than to follow Jesus. When my father dragged me to church on Sunday mornings, I no longer day-dreamed and counted the minutes to hear the final “Amen.” I wanted to not only sit in the pews to receive from Jesus, but I desired to be an active participant. This led me to join the youth choir that met weekly for practice. My new found faith led me to read the Bible regularly and to pray the rosary with my Nana when I visited her on the weekends. My walk with God did not last very long. After I graduated from high school and moved to another state, I slowly but surely began to walk away from Him. The farther away I got, the more I slipped into sin.
At the age of eighteen I was steeped in sin. I was lonely, empty and feeling so dirty inside. I made the decision to go back to church. I remember that day when I sat in the last pew of the church; the church where I once led the singing while standing in the front. As I listened to the Word of God, each word cut straight to my heart. Hope rose inside of me. I knew this was exactly what I needed and wanted. I decided to follow Jesus for a second time in my life. The following week, my church was starting a program called Renew, and because I wanted more of Jesus, I signed up to participate. I was assigned to a home group where we met weekly in an effort to have our faith renewed. I loved every minute of it! My faith in Jesus brought me much joy and peace. I woke every morning at five to read my Bible before driving an hour to college. I became a cantor at church where I stood on the altar and led the music. I also became a lector and read the Gospel readings during the service. I was asked to lead a youth Renew group in my home and so I imparted to young teens all that I was learning.
I was going strong for a while, but within less than two years, I found myself once again steeped in sin…men, drugs, alcohol, stealing money. This falling away from God didn’t happen overnight. I moved out of my parent’s home and therefore had to work more hours. This led me to quit college. I worked late hours in nightclubs and so I was too tired to go to church on Sunday mornings. I told myself that I didn’t need to attend church to have a relationship with God. Eventually, I got too busy and too steeped in sin to turn my face toward God in prayer. The farther away I got from Him, the more I fell into sin. Sound familiar?
I turned a third time to Jesus when I was twenty-one. I bumped into an older woman whom I knew from my home town and she invited me to her prayer group. I thought about her invitation. “I feel that my life has no purpose—like I’m at a dead-end. And I don’t want to do this anymore without God.” I realized that I needed God. I had lost peace and joy since I stepped away from Him and I wanted it back again. I decided to accept my friend’s invitation. Since my first visit to that prayer meeting, I have not stepped away from God again—twenty-six years now. I have asked myself what was different about that third time. “What caused me to stick to my faith no matter what circumstances came my way?” Holy Spirit is the answer!
After joining the prayer group as a regular member, the leader said that she was going to be facilitating Life in the Spirit seminars. I signed up for her first seminar because I felt that it would help me to know God more. During the seven weeks of the seminar we studied all of the scriptures that spoke in detail of the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. We learned Who He was, What He did, How He moved, and most of all, that we could have His power living inside of us. In order for this to happen, all we needed was to receive prayer for the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. We read about this in Acts 19…Paul “asked them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ They answered, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ So Paul asked, ‘Then what baptism did you receive?’ ‘John’s baptism,’ they replied. Paul said, ‘John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.’ On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.” The results of Paul’s prayer over this group of disciples are similar to what happened in the upper room at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit fell on the one hundred (Acts 2).
On week five of the seminar I received prayer for the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. I do not remember grand signs and wonders, but I believe that the fruit manifested within time. Within a year I found myself in a new church, closer to home, that was considered charismatic or Pentecostal. They too held Life in the Spirit seminars. I never knew anyone who went through a seminar more than once, to get “baptized” again, but I didn’t care. I wanted more of God so I signed up for a second time. Following my second “baptism,” I received the gift of tongues, also known as “my prayer language”. In addition, I noticed a difference when I read the Bible. I felt that the scriptures seemed to jump off the page. I not only read the words, but understood what I was reading. I began to apply God’s Word to my daily living. A few years passed and I jumped at the opportunity to go through another Life in the Spirit seminar. I simply wanted more of God! I didn’t ask anyone if it was right or wrong to go through it more than once, I just did it. After my third “baptism” I began to feel a joy in my heart that I had never felt before. This makes sense because joy is one of the nine fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5).
I liken my faith walk to the analogy of fireworks. Consider my life to be like the traditional firework called the Roman Candle. The first and second time I chose Jesus, my flame got lit. It burned brightly at first, but it shortly fizzled out because it lacked the gunpowder to keep it fired up. My Roman candle was a dud. The third time I chose Jesus, I got my Roman candle packed with gunpowder (Holy Spirit power), and my flame has been burning brightly since. Come to think of it, I am more on fire now with the love of God and the power of the Holy Spirit than any other time in my life. The only reason why my third decision to follow Jesus has lasted twenty-six years, is because I have had the power of the Holy Spirit living inside of me. Holy Spirit has enabled me to overcome every hook and snare that the enemy has thrown my way to cause me to walk away from God. When the enemy stole my joy and depression filled my life, I overcame with Holy Spirit’s power. When the enemy stole my four unborn babies, and thoughts of suicide dangled in my mind, I overcame with Holy Spirit’s power. When my body was racked with pain for two long years and caused me to be debilitated, I overcame with Holy Spirit’s power.
I could write a book on all of the snares that the enemy has set before me to cause me to hate God; to doubt God’s love for me; to give up on Him and turn away from Him. Never again I promise you! I will never again turn away from my God who is good and only wants good things for me! As long as I am filled with Holy Spirit’s power, I will overcome! This, my Christian friends, is the key to victorious living. I firmly believe that where there is no Spirit, there is no victory.
“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword’…But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
*Original artwork by Holly Otten